Author Archives: James Ketsdever

Life in the Trumpocalypse – Kittens in Chief

I’m noticing that every time I turn on a TV news show the first words I hear are “Donald Trump…” Same with NPR. I don’t hear his name as a first + surname anymore, just “Donaldtrump”, or “Dontrump” or “Dontrum”, depending on the speaker and also depending on how hard I might be trying to postpone the inevitable arrival of that bloated, orange flesh melon image in my visual cortex after hearing his name—like a pizza hitting a windshield at 60 mph.

Cut to one of the best things ever. Don’t know if you have this running in your web browser but I recommend it as part of your Trumpocalypse Survival Kit. I installed it right after the election and it brings me joy. And oh…sweetjeezus, I’ll take a little joy right now.

This little extension reads the metadata of an image file or something—hell, I don’t care how it works—and turns pictures of “Dontrum” into kittens. That’s it. It doesn’t work 100% of the time or on every web page, and that’s fine. It does work often enough to provide an occasional reprieve, a tiny timeout, one less soul-stabbing reminder that there’s a very small, sad, angry, manchild in the White House—with the nuclear codes. Instead…it gives you Kittens in Chief. Yay!

Example. This morning, as I sifted through the 18 daily emails from progressive activist groups in my inbox asking me to sign their petition and contribute $3, I swallowed hard and clicked on a link from my daily New Yorker feed which popped open a Trump story (because I’m forcing myself to stay engaged and informed in spite of the aforementioned orange stain it leaves on my psyche).

This story was about a judge in Virginia criticizing Trump’s muslim ban so I know I’m about to wade hip deep into the Swamp of Eternal Peril and have to confront the latest evidence that there’s a tiny brained buffoon as a president and how this IS a Bizzaro World nightmare I can’t wake up from. So while I’m scrolling through this very cogent and insightful story by Amy Davidson and feeling my insides twist into knots and the light drain out of the world (with Steve Bannon’s gnarled, necrotic fingers on the rheostat) and the echo of that pasty, tweener sycophant Steve Miller spewing all serious-and-bigboy-like in the camera that Trump’s power “won’t be questioned” ringing in my ears, which makes me want to stuff the little rat-faced twerp back into his 7th grade locker and weld it shut with my molten tears…

Upside down kitten! Yay!

This little bowser extension doesn’t alter the depressing reality of the words that wrap around the pictures it converts to cuddly felines (although an app that changes “President Trump” to “President F—-face McPeabrain” would be cool), but at least we can occasionally be spared the optics that typically accompany our daily megadoses of existential pain.

P.S. When you think about it, in many ways they’re a lot alike—Trump and kittens. They both crap all over the place, but at least kittens are cute.

Get the extension here: https://tinyurl.com/h94tdd6

November 9th

There was the convulsive urge to spit, vomit, curse, rant,
scream into the pillow.

There was the agonizing, water torture description of hope
going down in flames like the Hindenburg, plummeting to earth in real time,
the cool promise of something kinder, gentler turning to cinders, spiraling away,
borne aloft by an inferno of hate, ignorance and fear.
A story told in numbers on a graph.

I woke early and took myself for a slow morning/mourning walk
out among my old friends the quail, laurel and madrone, over layers
of red-orange sycamore leaves pasted on dewy black asphalt.
Like last November.

We will keep our marching shoes by the door.
We will gather our sign making materials.
We will refuse to become humorless and hateful.
We will clear our throats and keep our voices limber and loud.

Voices can shorten wars and topple dictators. I was there.
There is a familiar drumbeat in the distance.

Now we do this.

Reluctant reprise

white-maleArtboard 1 copy

Honestly. Writing, making art, posting on social media all seem like impotent and feckless responses to tragedy. I’m even coming to despise the word “tragedy” if only because it’s starting to lose it’s meaning with overuse.

Others are better at memorializing, analyzing and eulogizing. All I know how to do is make a few pieces of useless art, write a few mediocre poems. I’m not a cultural spokesperson. No one is entitled to my opinion. I am no one and I have nothing important to say. I am throwing handfuls of wind into a hurricane.

But here’s my piece anyway. It’s what I thought of to say after Ferguson and again after Orlando and then these latest episodes in Baton Rouge and Minnesota. For some reason after all those events I’ve felt the need to put my race in perspective, for me—something I rarely reflect on—and remind myself and my fellow white American males that we can’t underestimate how much dumb genetic luck factors into every good thing we take for granted in our lives. That seems like start. The very, very least I can do.

This is an edited poster. It exists on this site months back in its original form, but I felt the need to edit it a bit, make it more personal this time. I used my likeness in this reprised version. It was some guy from a vintage photo before. Not that I’m not somewhat vintage myself.

Like a lot of us, I’m upset to the point of being physically ill about the state of the country and the world right now. But, locally, everything is fine. My town, my community, my neighborhood are all humming along like nothing is different. So the pain is abstract, psychic and so it’s easy to just drink my coffee, pay my taxes, ride my Vespa to the gym and keep the chaos, stupidity, paranoia, even the politics at arms length. Maybe drop in to write a letter, sign a petition, “like” a Facebook post, but largely stay in the bubble that white suburbia affords. I’m not sure what else to do, but try out a few thought experiments, try to understand, listen a lot, give form to feelings when compelled. This, and some poems I’ve written are the products of that restless energy.

Fun Fact: Ukraine is not Russia.

A visitor politely pointed out to me that a piece of content in my “DIY Kombucha” infographic was incorrect. And technically, he’s right. And being the stickler for geographical accuracy and REALLY wanting NOT to be one of those Americans who can’t point to any of the countries we’re currently at war with, let alone anywhere else on the globe besides Hawaii and Mexico, I’m re-posting the infographic along with this correction: Chernobyl is NOT in Russia, in fact it’s in Ukraine. Even though during the time period (Soviet Era) in which I referred to Chernobyl, all of the West thought of the USSR collectively as “Russia”, Russia is not Ukraine. And that’s all I’ll say about that can of worms. (See section called “Fun Facts”).

DIY-Kombucha-lores

 

 

It’s hard to be sad and useful at the same time.

sad-useful

This quote came to me via one of my comedic heroes, Louis C.K., who cites as a source of inspiration in his own early life.

It’s apparently a snippet of dialog from an old Spencer Tracy movie in which Tracy was admonishing a young, beautiful socialite who was down on her luck and feeling sorry for herself.

I offer it here because it’s a reminder that an effective antidote for depression can often be a shift of focus away from our own interior struggles and toward others. Or to just be of use in the world, in some way, big or small, every day.

 

 

Tutorial: How to convert your hand-lettering into vector shapes using Adobe Shape

title

Stuff you’ll need if you want to try the techniques in this tutorial: 

(Sorry to any legacy Adobe application users. This tutorial relies on features only found of the Creative Cloud Libraries.)

Hey kids, there’s a fun new toy in the sandbox!

It’s now possible to go from sketchbook to finished artwork in a few clicks.

Graphic designers have been turning raster images into vectors using Illustrator and the Trace Image feature for a long time but Adobe Shape, albeit a less precise way to accomplish this, gives us a much more spontaneous way to vectorize 2D and 3D stuff in real time, so for those of us who are way into instant gratification, this couldn’t be more up our alley(s). Case in point…I was watching some Swedish murder mystery on Netflix the other night and had my iPad open to Shape and decided to try vectorizing a few scenes that had relatively little movement. This is what I got:

tv-shape-grabs

The top image is of a guy swimming in a lake. The other just two guys talking. I spent literally no time on these but as an example of how to capture abstract shapes from literally anything you can photograph. If you can see it, you can path it!

This next image is a Shape rendering of a still life photo that already existed in my Photos library.

still0-life-shape

How the title graphic at the top of this post was created using a simple vector shape, plus hand lettering and a background scene photographed with Adobe Shape. 

pen-bg

First, I created a pen shape above to contain the title lettering. I started in Illustrator by manually creating a vector shape, then brought that shape into Photoshop, then cut and pasted the layer into Corel Painter. I know all that sounds complicated but I wanted the pen shape to have a textured background and by selecting the black shape in Painter with Auto Select, I could then hide the layer and paint within the selection on a new layer with a pastel brush. I then saved the Painter file as a .psd and opened it back up in Photoshop.

Then some serious fun…

lettering

I printed out the pen shape and used it behind a piece of tracing vellum so I knew where to execute my pencil lettering then used a #2 Ticonderoga to draw the letters and didn’t worry too much about the minute details. Once I had it the way I wanted it compositionally, I used my iPad Mini and Adobe Shape to capture the vectorized version of the lettering.

ipad-shape

It’s hard to see in the photo but Shape is zeroing in on the dark areas of the design and displaying those areas in green in the iPad display. You can adjust the level of sensitivity to refine the detail and it also allows you to capture a reversed image. Press the camera-style “shutter release” button and it auto-magically creates a vector file which is then saved to a designated Creative Cloud Library.

Creative Cloud Libraries could be the coolest thing Adobe has come up with in years—if you routinely use more than one application for a project (which I do lots of), you can access artwork you’ve saved from various projects, text, color swatches, images, stock photos and just drag and drop them into most CC applications. So to create the title illustration above, I opened a new Illustrator file, dragged my lettering vector artwork onto the art board to do a little vector path clean up, although I could have just as easily dragged the same file into Photoshop (the same CC Libraries appear in almost every Adobe app) and used masks and brushes to get rid of unwanted bits and pieces. It all depends on what kind of edits you want to make.

Starting with the same .psd file I opened up from Painter, I added a color layer for a background and dropped my lettering right on top of the pen layer I created in Illustrator.

lettering-no-bg

I intentionally used a setting in Shape that would pick up a lot of the artifacts created by the wrinkly tracing paper and side lighting, which added some “schmutz” around the letters. I edited out 80% of it but left a little in for character.

The background needed some interest so I used Shape again, set up a “scene” and photographed it in order to create some background interest.

bg-setupbg-vectors

I used this layer right over the background color layer, filled it with color and reduced the opacity to help it recede into the background.

bg-only

 

Shape also works on pencil/ink line work illustrations. Left is the pencil sketch nearly all inked in, right is the Adobe Shape vector version.

totem-in-progress

totem-vectorized-300

I played with multiple, layered copies and blending modes in Illustrator to give it a slightly offset color separation look and feel. Here’s one option:

totem

 The Takeaway

Some extremely famous and talented calligraphers and letterers use a version of this technique for getting their work from sketch to digital canvas. Since my work is usually much less precise and more sketchy and imprecise, this technique suits my style perfectly, and workflow-wise is much more efficient than scanning and using image trace tools. Photographing 2D line work won’t pick up the fine detail that a 600 dpi scan will, but that’s okay for some projects.

So no, I’m not on the Adobe payroll but I do like to call out a good product when I run across it.

While my first reaction to this tool was definitely “kid in a candy store”, I probably won’t use it for every project. But used in conjunction with CC Libraries, it’s definitely now a permanent resident of my go-to tool box.

Without aspirations we are nothing but meat with habits :: Nancy Ellen Abrams

I read this quote in a recent article by scientist/philosopher Nancy Ellen Abrams on the NPR website and let out a “bwaaa-hah” that sent my cat into the next room. Love the pull-no-punches ideas from this author and this quote from her is both inspiring and a little sobering.

Nancy Ellen Abrams quote

And because I can’t help from spilling my guts about new hand-lettering techniques, here’s the deal with this one:

I sketched this in sketchpencil first, then inked it in with a .5mm Micron drawing pen, then erased the pencil. Then came the magic part. I opened an app called Adobe Shape on my iPad Mini and without even so much as moving from my desk, created a vector image of the sketch, which then was automagically uploaded to my Adobe Creative Cloud library, which then I accessed from the Photoshop CC Library panel. So cool. You can also store color swatches, graphic assets, styles and all sorts of other stuff in the Library and access them from Photoshop, Illustrator or InDesign. And the experimentation with Shape has only begun. The other night I was watching TV and tried photographing a few images of the screen with Shape. Suffice to say if you pick your moments…

The vector image from Shape created some odd interpretations in certain places so I created a layer mask over the whole text layer after sliding the artwork from the Library to an 8.5×11, 300 dpi background file I created in Photoshop. The mask allowed me to edit the layer without making permanent changes.

Then, to get some of the pastel effects, I placed the layered .psd into a Corel Painter file and with the text artwork layer selected, chose Select > Auto Select, which gave me a selection of the artwork. I hid the text layer, created a new one and started working on the text with a pastel brush. The backgrounds, counter fills, were also done with a pastel brush on separate layers. I saved the Painter file as .psd and opened it in Photoshop to generate the web images, etc.

The Shape of things to come

All this took about an hour. Of course to replicate this workflow exactly requires having a Creative Cloud account with Adobe, which I do for my day job anyway. But even without the instant gratification which the Adobe CC Library makes possible, scanning your inked artwork and “vectorizing” it makes for some intriguing results. There are services like Vector Magic that will do an online scan on a per piece basis, if you’re curious. They also sell a desktop version of their app but it’s crazy expensive. Anyway, these tools (Shape + Photoshop + Painter) really work nicely together with my particular lettering style which is more free form and primitive. But I know serious big time letterers like Jessica Hische work in a similar style—sketch, ink, photograph, vectorize, refine. In her case, refine refine refine refine. Not so much with me.